People who got colon cancer in their 20s or 30s describe what it was like and the signs that were ignored

People who got colon cancer in their 20s or 30s describe what it was like and the signs that were ignored
17.12.2023

Colorectal cancer rates have risen dramatically among young adults, but diagnosing patients in this group has proven difficult.

When Kyle Pukylo started feeling stomach pain, he struggled to find a doctor who could see him in person on short notice in Lakeland, Florida, where he lives. So he booked a telehealth session.

“They said, ‘Yeah, there’s a stomach bug going around. Just give it a few days,’” Pukylo said.

That was in May 2021. A month later, a nurse practitioner examined him in person and recommended that he go to the emergency room. A CT scan revealed a large tumor that had spread to Pukylo’s liver. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

“They were surprised that I was still standing and alive,” he said. “They were scared that I literally could die any moment.”

Pukylo is one of five people who spoke to about their experiences getting colorectal cancer — a term that includes both colon and rectal cancer — in their 20s or 30s. All received diagnoses within the last seven years, and many said they ignored early indicators because of their age. Others said health care providers shrugged off their concerns for the same reason.

Rates of colorectal cancer have risen among young adults in the U.S over the last few decades. The proportion of people diagnosed under age 55 rose to 20% in 2019, up from 11% in 1995, according to the American Cancer Society. Rates among people ages 65 and up, meanwhile, have declined since 2011. 

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